National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, left, and Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, during the opening worship at General Synod 2016. Photo: Art Babych
In the wake of July’s vote on same-sex marriages at General Synod, Indigenous Anglicans intend to “proceed towards self-determination with urgency,” the Anglican Church of Canada’s three Indigenous bishops say. General Synod voted this summer to provisionally approve changes to the marriage canon, which would allow same-sex marriages. The proposed changes must pass a second reading, slated for the next General Synod in 2019, before they can take effect.
On Thursday, September 22, National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald; Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh; and Bishop Adam Halkett, of Missinipi, released a joint statement they say was requested by an Indigenous circle that met after the results of July’s vote were revealed. The bishops begin by saying that they do not speak for all Indigenous peoples, although, they add, they have consulted “broadly and deeply” with many. The statement voices displeasure both with the decision and the process it was made, and expresses desire for a more self-determined Indigenous Anglican community in Canada.
“We do not agree with the decision and believe that it puts our communities in a difficult place in regards to our relation and community with the Anglican Church of Canada,” the bishops say.
While they intend to discern their exact course of action “in the days ahead,” the bishops say, they also commit to continuing “in our conversation with the Anglican Church of Canada in regards to self-determination and mutual cooperation in our Anglican Christian ministry.”
The bishops continue, “We will proceed towards self-determination with all urgency.”
At the same time, they say they will also “seek ways to continue our conversation with the LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer] communities and individuals, affirming our earlier statements of love and welcome.”
Bishop Adam Halkett, of Missinipi, at General Synod this summer. Photo: Art Babych
The statement also calls for a church inquiry into the process by which July’s decision was made.
“We believe that this entire incident calls for a review and rethinking of the ways that the Church conducts its business,” the statement reads. “We have resolved to work with you to see that we never have to be in this kind of situation again.”
Particularly painful, the bishops say, was the “silencing” of an elder during debate on the floor of synod. Although this was understandable given the “Western process” that was followed at synod, the bishops say, an apology to the elder is in order.
The statement does not include an account of how the elder was allegedly silenced. Members of synod who wished to join the debate were given a time limit.
The Canadian Charter of Rights, the bishops say, guarantees the church’s right to “complete its pastoral work in marriages,” and also that the country’s Indigenous peoples are “self-determining with regard to basic cultural and social matters.” This guarantee, the statement says, is “fundamental to the Nation-to-Nation relationship which is at the base of Indigenous Rights, reconciliation and a promising future for all of Canada.” These rights, they say, are also affirmed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Given this, the bishops say, “we are deeply disturbed and disappointed that so little attention was paid to our pastoral and social self-determination and the right to free, prior and informed consent.”
That Indigenous people must give “free, prior and informed consent” to what is done on their territory is one of the principles of UNDRIP.
Indigenous Anglican elders, the bishops say, should have been “actively involved” with discussions to change the marriage canon. But neither discussion of the matter nor This Holy Estate—the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon—were translated into Indigenous languages, they say.
The bishops say they voted against changing the marriage canon not as a statement against anyone, but as an expression of their own understanding of marriage—an understanding they say is closely tied to their concept of creation itself.
“It is our understanding that, while homosexual persons have always had a place in our societies, same-sex marriage, itself, has not,” the bishops say. “We find in both our reading of Creation and Scripture the unique relationship of Man and Woman. The difference between the two, coming together in the miracle of a unique spiritual communion, is essential to the way we understand marriage—but not only marriage, it is the way we understand the Land, the way we understand Creation.”
The change to the canon, the bishops acknowledge, includes an “opt-in” clause, so that same-sex marriages would be permitted in a diocese only if authorized by the bishop. But they object to the changes made in the definition of marriage.
“Although the canon does not force anyone to do anything, the language of the revised canon changes the fundamental meaning of marriage to make it gender neutral,” the statement reads. “This is both a significant and unacceptable change to our communities, who still find male and female as essential to their understanding of the marriage ceremony.”
The statement, which is a little more than two pages long, concludes with the bishops’ expressions of regret for the discord they see the issue as having caused, at a time when they hoped for reconciliation.
“We are deeply sad that, at a time in which the Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples of the Anglican Church of Canada warmly embraced each other and a new future…we came to such divisiveness,” the bishops say. “We are deeply sorry for any ways that our actions—words and acts of sin by doing and/or not-doing—contributed to this outcome and will seek to do our very best in the future to embody the reconciliation that we see in Jesus. We believe that Christ is present among us, by His own power and promise, and we will look for Him to guide us into a better future.
“We, finally, pledge our very best attempts to remain brothers and sisters to all Anglicans, living out our baptismal covenant in the bonds of affection and mutual faithfulness.”
About the Author
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
Anglican Journal News, September 23, 2016